Japan’s failed lobby for Dokdo in Peace Treaty (1)
This is the first of a five-part series examining Korean and Japanese claims regarding Dokdo and the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951 that fell short of clearly defining the legal ownership of the rocky islets in the East Sea. –– ED.
By Lee Tae-hoon
Tokyo’s territorial claims over Dokdo continue six decades after Korea recovered its territory taken by Japan’s “violence and greed,” including the easternmost rocky islets.
This is largely attributed to the ambiguity of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which officially ended World War II with Japan, over the sovereignty of Dokdo.
Japan insists that the islets, which it refers to as Takeshima, is its territory as Shimane Prefecture incorporated them in 1905 and that the name of the disputed islets was left out in the final text of the peace treaty signed in September 1951.
However, what lies behind the glossy assertion is a distortion of the truth and denial of past crimes against Koreans, according to Shin Yong-ha, a professor emeritus at Seoul National University and the founder of the Dokdo Society.
He claims that Japan used dirty tricks and lies in lobbying the United States in its failed attempt to reverse the Allied Powers’ decision to return Dokdo to Korea in the process of negotiating the treaty.
Legacy of Japan’s imperial past
Shin points out that Japan is reluctant to acknowledge the fact that Dokdo belongs to Korea because Tokyo’s retaking of the remote islets would implicitly justify its forceful occupation of Korea. Dokdo was the first Korean territory that Japan annexed against the will of the Korean people.
Tokyo secretly annexed the rocky islets into its own territory on Feb. 22, 1905 as part of its move to install military facilities in major strategic areas on the Korean Peninsula amidst the Russo-Japanese War.
The 74-year-old historian suspects Japan’s seizure of Dokdo was one of the first signs that Japan was harboring ambitions to colonize the entire Korean Peninsula through military aggression.
Tokyo informally notified Seoul of its incorporation of Dokdo four months after it deprived Korea of its diplomatic sovereignty through the infamous Korea-Japan Protectorate Treaty, or Eulsa Treay on Nov. 17, 1905.
“Japan informed Korea of its annexation of Dokdo on March 28, 1906, right after it dismantled Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Jan. 17 that year to eliminate its diplomatic channel to protest Tokyo’s sovereignty claim over the islets,” Shin said.
“Japan carefully crafted the illicit incorporation of Dokdo as it was well aware that it was an act of invasion on Korean territory and unjustifiable aggression that could possibly escalate into a major dispute.”
Return of Dokdo to Korea
Dokdo, which the French named the Liancourt Rocks after one of the European nation’s whaling ship almost ran aground there in 1849, was officially excluded from Japan’s territory and returned to Korea on Jan. 29, 1946 by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers Instruction (SCAPIN) No. 677.
SCAPIN No. 677 stipulates that Japan is “directed to cease exercising, or attempting to exercise, governmental or administrative authority outside of Japan,” explicitly specifying Dokdo and the adjacent Ulleung Island as areas that it should renounce.
“As of Sept. 2, the U.S. military took control of Japan and decisions made by the General Headquarters of the Supreme Commander for Allied Powers became legally binding on Japan,” Shin said, noting that Tokyo formally surrendered to the Allied Powers unconditionally on Sept. 2, 1945, following its defeat in World War II.
On Sept. 22, 1945, the U.S. government declared the U.S. Initial Post-Surrender Policy for Japan, making the Japanese government subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP), appointed by the United States, a post given to Gen. Douglas McArthur.
It stipulated that Japanese sovereignty would only include its four main islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku and minor outlying islands, while the fate of additional islands would be determined in accordance with the Cairo Declaration.
The Cairo Declaration signed on Dec. 1, 1943 by leaders of China, the United State and Britain demanded that Japan be “expelled from all territories which she had taken by violence and greed.”
“The Cairo Declaration served as a legal foundation for Korea to retrieve Dokdo that Japan stole from it in 1905,” Shin said.
SCAPIN No. 677
Shin claims that SCAPIN No. 677 is one of the most crucial documents carrying legal validity under international law along with Japan’s signing of the Instrument of Surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945.
“The Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers studied for about four and a half months before issuing SCAPIN No. 677 that defines the territorial boundaries of Japan, explicitly excluding Dokdo,” he said.
SCAPIN No. 677 states that the directive shall not be construed as the ultimate determination of Japan’s minor islands but this is because, according to Shin, Russia’s sovereignty claim over the Kuril Islands was in dispute.
“SCAPIN No. 677 clearly states that the directive will be applied to all future directives, memoranda and orders from the headquarters unless other Allied nations complain and seek a new SCAPIN,” he said.
He added that the United States Army Military Government in Korea, the official ruling body of the southern half of the Korean Peninsula from Sept. 8, 1945, took over the sovereignty of the Dokdo Islets from Japan on Jan. 29, 1946 and handed it over to the Republic of Korea when it was established on Aug. 15, 1948.
“Dokdo became a part of Korean territory under international law upon the establishment of the government on Aug. 15, 1948 in recognition of SCAPIN No. 677,” Shin said. “The United Nations even recognized Korea on Dec. 12, 1948 as a lawful government having effective control and jurisdiction over Dokdo and other islands stated in SCAPIN No. 677.”
San Francisco Peace Treaty
Dokdo could have ended up a disputed territory if the San Francisco Peace Treaty defined the rocky islets that Korea had already resumed exercising its sovereignty of for three years as part of Japan’s territory, Shin stressed.
“If the treaty mentioned Dokdo as Japanese territory it would have become an international dispute as this would contradict the Allied Powers’ earlier decision to return the islets to Korea,” he said.
The scholar noted that Tokyo managed to convince the United States to include the Liancourt Rocks as part of Japan’s territory through fabrication of the truth and its proposal to let the U.S. forces use them for military operations.
“The United States seemed to have made a shady deal with Japan for its own national interests but failed to convince other allied nations, including the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand to strip Korea of its sovereignty of Dokdo,” Shin said.
He claims that the United States specified Dokdo as part of Japanese territory in later drafts of the peace treaty but New Zealand and other Commonwealth countries strongly objected to it, saying the treaty should “ensure that none of the islands near Japan was left in disputed sovereignty.”
Shin says Korea rightfully retains legal rights over Dokdo as the San Francisco Peace Treaty did not specify it as part of Japan’s territory despite the latter’s all-out efforts to take Dokdo away from Korea.
“Japan distributed a pamphlet, titled Minor Islands Adjacent to Japan Proper, to allied nations, falsely claiming that both Dokdo and Ulleung Island were Japanese territory and that no Korean name had existed for the Liancourt Rocks and that Dokdo was not shown in maps made in Korea,” he said.
Shin also underlined that Japan successfully lobbied McArthur’s political advisor William J. Sebald, whose mother-in-law was Japanese, but he could not convince other allied nations to reach an agreement on the transfer of Dokdo’s territorial rights to Japan in the treaty.
Sebald recommended the U.S. State Department to consider giving Dokdo to Japan in light of U.S. interest in the rocky islets, which Tokyo offered the U.S. military to use as a bombing range or a weather and radar station site.
“It was similar to the story of two mothers who bring their case before King Solomon,” he said. “A true mother’s instincts would be to protect her child, while the liar may rather see him split in two by a sword than losing it.”
He said Japan would rather have destroyed Dokdo than voluntarily give it back to the rightful owner of Korea.